A village guide to Chiddingstone
PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 May 2017
One of the best-preserved Tudor villages in the country, Chiddingstone has always been a fascinating place for a day out and now that the historic pub at its heart has been brought back to life, there's even more reason to visit
With village pubs closing at an alarming rate these days, it’s always encouraging to hear of one getting a new lease of life – and especially when it’s the ancient inn at the heart of such a historic place as Chiddingstone.
One of the best-preserved Tudor enclaves in the country, the buildings here are also very typical of the Kent style with their half-timbered sides, picturesque gables and stone-hung red-tiled roofs. In fact, such is the importance of the architecture that the entire village was purchased by the National Trust in 1939 to secure its future for the nation.
Fast-forward to 2017, however, and there’s been something missing of late. For the best part of a year, the village has been bereft of its much-loved local, The Castle Inn, since the pub closed its doors last April.
But now change is in the air again. Much to the joy of everyone in the village, the inn has just reopened this spring, following a sympathetic renovation, after local businessman Nick Naismith secured the lease from the National Trust.
“We’re delighted to be bringing this historic inn back to life for the local community here in Chiddingstone and for the many visitors who enjoy coming here too,” says Nick. “Having already restored The Wheatsheaf at nearby Bough Beech to its former glory, we have had plenty of experience of sensitive restorations – and it is particularly rewarding to be overseeing the sympathetic renovation of this Grade II* listed building, which dates back to the early 15th century.
“We have kept the lovely historic features of course, such as the fireplaces, tiled floors, oak panelling and bars, but had plenty of scope with the furnishings and fabrics. The result is a fresh, welcoming feel that is also comfortable, warm and respectful of the heritage of this beautiful building.”
The ideal place for an inspiring day out, especially now that a pub lunch can be part of the itinerary again, Chiddingstone is steeped in history throughout. As well as its perfectly preserved Tudor buildings, the village is also home to what is believed to be the oldest working shop in the country.
The earliest reference to the store, which is now a gift shop, grocery store and Post Office called The Tulip Tree, dates back to a deed of 1453 – and it was later bought by Thomas Boleyn, the father of Anne Boleyn, who was also the owner of nearby Hever Castle.
Across the road, the Parish Church of St Mary is another historically significant building in its own right. Dating back originally to the 13th century, it was almost destroyed in a lightning fire in 1624, but the fine 15th-century tower survived, with its stair turret and four pinnacles. Among the church’s other important features, the font was made in 1628 from local sandstone, and has been described as the best production of its period in Kent, while the pulpit also dates from the same period.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, however, is the mysterious ‘Chiding Stone’, an intriguing natural feature that is the source of many legends, and quite possibly the inspiration behind the village’s name.
Formed millions of years ago, when the land was underwater, this large sandstone outcrop is believed to have been regarded as a hallowed site by ancient druids – and, rather less romantically, later used as a ‘chiding stone’, a place to berate nagging wives.
“There’s a great deal of myth and folklore surrounding the Chiding Stone at Chiddingstone village,” says the National Trust’s general manager for the area, Zoё Colbeck.
“Over the centuries it is thought to have been used as a place to conduct judicial affairs and also as a boundary marker by the Saxons. In medieval times it is believed that nagging wives, wrongdoers and witches were brought to the stone to be chided as punishment by an assembly of villagers.
“This is where the most recent name for the stone comes from and with it possibly the name of the village. In any event, the Chiding Stone still holds a sense of mystery and has become an attraction that still draws interest today.”
Finally, no trip to this extraordinary heritage village would be complete without a visit to the pub’s next-door neighbour, Chiddingstone Castle, the history of which can also be traced back to Tudor times.
Having been through various incarnations during its long lifetime, the building was remodelled in the fashionable ‘medieval castle-style’ of the early 19th century by a former High Sheriff of Kent, Henry Streatfeild, whose family owned the property for many generations.
More recently, the castle became home to avid collector Denys Eyre Bower, who amassed an astounding collection of everything from Japanese lacquer, samurai armour and Ancient Egyptian treasures to Buddhist objects, Stuart paintings and Jacobite manuscripts.
His dying wish was that both the property itself and his collections should be preserved for future generations to enjoy – a wish that was indeed eventually granted.
Now run by an independent charitable trust, Chiddingstone Castle is open to the public on selected days from April to October and was recently named runner-up in the prestigious Tourism South East awards for Small Visitor Attraction of the Year.
“People are always so fascinated to discover that here we are in this little village, in this mock medieval castle, with this amazing collection of extraordinary artefacts,” says director of Chiddingstone Castle, Ali Ditzel.
“Among the highlights are a display of Japanese lacquer-ware that is second only to the V&A in this country, some extraordinary samurai swords and even a mummified cat from Ancient Egypt.
“We also have a permanent exhibition where visitors can learn all about the castle’s eventful past and the history of the wider village.”
Back at the pub, the exhibition has also proved to be a useful resource for Nick and his team as they start to research the intriguing history of this ancient inn. They would also be delighted to hear from any locals with information.
“Researching the history of the inn is proving to be a fascinating process,” says Nick. “We are particularly grateful to have Chiddingstone Castle nearby, where you can learn all about the history of the village; through them, we have found out that the inn was once known as The Five Bells.
“We’re looking forward to learning more from the locals in order to build up a bigger picture of the inn’s past.”
Looking ahead to the future, visitors to the pub will be able to enjoy a selection of high-quality ales and lagers, including from the award-winning Westerham Brewery, as well as the popular Larkins beer, brewed here in the village, and Harvey’s from Lewes.
The food, meanwhile, will be traditional British fare, also sourced locally and cooked fresh by head chef David Fuller and his team. And with plans afoot to create 10 boutique bedrooms next, it will soon be possible to enjoy more than a day trip to this very special village.
“From the wonderful Tudor buildings to the historic shop to the famous Chiding Stone itself, Chiddingstone is a beautiful and fascinating place for a day out,” adds Nick.
“But I hope that with the reopening of the historic Castle Inn at the heart of the village, now we’ll give people an extra reason to visit.”
Find out more
The National Trust: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chiddingstone-village
The Castle Inn: www.castleinnchiddingstone.co.uk
The Tulip Tree: www.thetuliptree.biz
St Mary’s Church: www.chiddingstonechurches.org/stmarys.html
Chiddingstone Castle: www.chiddingstonecastle.org.uk
A day out in Chiddingstone
10am: Start with a short stroll to the famous ‘Chiding Stone’, possibly the village’s namesake, found down a small path off the main street.
11am: Enjoy a visit to the fascinating church with its many historic features and lovely stained-glass windows.
12noon: Pick up a souvenir at The Tulip Tree, believed to be the oldest working shop in the country, with the earliest reference dating back to a deed of 1453.
1pm: Tuck into a delicious lunch at the newly-opened Castle Inn washed down with a local tipple.
2pm: Head next door to Chiddingstone Castle to enjoy this enchanting building, the extraordinary collections and informative exhibition.
3pm: Pop into the gift shop in the castle’s unusual Well Tower where you’ll find a great selection of locally made goods.
4pm: Finish with a traditional English afternoon tea in the castle’s delightful tea room before heading on your way.
*NB: Please check opening times for all attractions before travelling